We have enough divisions; we don’t need to create more

May 20, 2014

It sounded pretty innocuous. And should have been.

At last week’s Sussex County Council meeting, Councilman George Cole made a resolution to grant $500 - $100 per councilperson - to the Lower Sussex NAACP Youth Council.

The money was to go toward things like a financial workshop and a fitness challenge.

Council members regularly makes grants to various groups, with money taken from discretionary accounts set aside for this purpose. I’m lukewarm about council members bestowing money this way, but it’s a long-accepted practice. I’m sure cash-poor community groups are quite grateful.

And no doubt the NAACP is grateful too. It received its grant, though only after some grandstanding by Councilmen Sam Wilson and Vance Phillips.

Here’s Wilson questioning the NAACP representative:

“Take my name off. I’m not going to give anything. Unless you can describe what that says. What’s NAACP stand for?”

Wilson, of course, knows what it stands for. He was being a wise guy.

He could have said nothing; he could have said he thought the money should go elsewhere; he could have said he disagreed with the group’s goals.

Yes, he might still have gotten some flack for voting against the measure. But he would have been able to argue more credibly that he was simply trying to make the best use of county money.

But where’s the fun in that? What’s the sense of holding power unless you can make the powerless squirm?

When the county finance director said the acronym stood for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - Duh! - this gave Phillips an opportunity to show his true colors, so to speak.

“What color?” Phillips asked.

Seriously? Is this necessary? Did he have to play the same game as Wilson? Yes, he did.

He continued, “I’m with Mr. Wilson. This is an organization that obviously is directed at a certain race that strikes me as inappropriate in this day of racial equality.”

Whereupon Wilson added, “Sounds like discrimination to me.”

It’s nice that Wilson and Phillips are so concerned about discrimination. But it would be easier to believe we are living in a “day of racial equality” if all citizens who came before council were treated with equal respect.

Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Wilson and Phillips detracted from their own message of racial equality.

It would also be nice to set aside silly stunts that needlessly divide people and to attend to the serious business of governing. Which is difficult enough without the antics.

(I say “needlessly,” but perhaps the politically weakened Phillips feels the need to rile up his base to win his September primary against Harry Strickler Jr. of Frankford.)

In the end, Cole offered a resolution to have the $500 taken from the accounts of three of the members, himself, Joan Deaver and Michael Vincent. This passed 4-1, with Wilson voting against and Phillips, oddly, voting in favor.

If Phillips thinks it inappropriate to grant money to the group, why vote in favor? It’s still county - or taxpayer - taxpayer money, regardless of whose account it comes from. It sounds like a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it, too.

Sorry, that won’t wash.

Now I wonder whether Wilson may have outsmarted himself. He enjoys stirring the pot, but he may have stirred up a dish not to his liking.

Jane Hovington of the Lower Sussex NAACP is scheduled to make a statement at this morning’s (May 20) Sussex County Council meeting, and activists are calling on people to attend.

They’re also making a push for people of all colors to join the NAACP. There’s nothing odd about that. The NAACP was founded by both black and white people, and its mission statement is more broad-based than you might expect.

It aims “to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights for all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

Sounds like the kind of group that Wilson and Phillips could support.